The Real Solution to Broad Communal Harmony

I am writing this for myself as well as anyone else that could benefit from it.

Several years ago, someone approached Rav Mordechai Schwab, zecher tzadik livracha, and asked him to comment on a statement of Rav Shach regarding the Chabad movement. (This was before the Rebbe’s petira.) Rav Schwab’s response was a complete refusal to comment. Rav Schwab (although he was a Yekke by yichus) was clearly a strong Litvak, and much more aligned with Rav Shach’s derech ha’avodah and hashkafos. And yet his response was “dumia”, complete silence and refusal of any involvement in the discussion.

I was once at a JEP dinner in Monsey. The guest speaker was of a somewhat more modern orientation. Since Rav Schwab’s son, Rabbi Yehudah Schwab is the director of JEP, Rav Schwab attended and sat at the dais. His seat was facing forward toward the general seating. The guest speaker was behind him at the microphone. Being the incredible baal middos that he was, he could not turn his seat around so that his back would be toward the tzibbur. He also could not fail to treat the guest speaker with less than the ultimate kavod. So, he turned his seat a bit, and sat with his (80 year old) neck crocked around at an uncomfortable looking angle for the entire length of the drasha, never removing his eyes from the speaker.

That was Rav Schwab. And that is the model I believe we all need to emulate if we are serious about ending intra-communal strife. You’ll complain that this Pollyannaish? So what! When every individual is Pollyannaish the entire community will also be and that will be a good thing. Those that have a real responsibility and ability to comment intelligently will do so. But the vast majority of us would be better served by ignoring the labels as much as possible. We need to return to basic derech eretz and worrying less that the frum community desperately needs our hashkafa pronouncements in order to help the confused. That is not a contradictory to the discussion of issues, even passionately, so long as it is done with humility. We need to make strong individual commitments to treat others respectfully. And we need to not take offense at every real or imagined slight. We need to model the behavior of Rav Schwab. Then our communities will be better and happier places.

11 comments on “The Real Solution to Broad Communal Harmony

  1. Thanks to all for the nice and insightful comments. Normally, when I post something I would like to engage in the post post dialouge (intended semantic confusion). I am busy at the moment with some urgent family stuff so i’ll have to pass this time.


  2. There is a story we all know about the Chofetz Chaim. When the Chofetz Chaim, Z’tl, found out a Yid was smoking on Shabbos he asked to see him in private. After that meeting this man stopped smoking. Why? Bacause the Chofetz Chaim did not condemn him. He just held his hand and cried. The Chofetz Chaim, zt’l, showed such love for this fellow Jew it hurt him so much to see this man violating Shabbos.

    The Chofetz Chaim, zt’l, was a Torah giant, and he was someone we should stand up for along with Torah greats like Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt’l.

  3. i agree.

    over tisha b’av, i read josephus’ description of the roman war against the jews and the destruction of the second temple.

    while he was hardly an objective observer, the jews animosity for their fellow jews dripped off every page.

    i think it’s fair (and also mandated by torah) to say ‘such and such’ an ACTION goes against torah law. but there also needs to be a lot more ‘benefit of the doubt’ being given to others.

    oftentimes, criticism of others just serves as a smokescreen, to deflect attention away from our own faults (i’m talking individually, not as a collective group – although i’m sure it also happens in those circumstances, too)

    it’s easy to respect people who act respectably. it’s much harder when they act disrespectably – but no less a mitzva.

  4. Well said, Michal. The story about the Chasida bird is very apt. We are all children of Hashem.

    Love, chessed, and derech eretz are inherent to recognizance of the “other” as our brother or sister, and is not contingent on appreciation of a group or community. Appreciation is a different concept entirely, and I agree, there is much to appreciate in our Lubavitcher friends.

  5. message to M:

    It is very sad that even today there is alot of hatred against Lubavitch. Unfortunately, I see it in my own community. Constantly, people make disparaging comments about Lubavitchers.

    It’s great that this website discusses alot about achdus and loving fellow Jews. However, loving fellow Jews means ALL jews. If we want to learn about achdus and loving your fellow Jew watch a Lubavitcher put Tefillin on a Jewish man who has long hair and wears earrings or blowing shofar for a Jewish homeless man on the streets of NYC or LA.

    A very good friend of mine, a Rabbi, told me a short dvar torah. He said that in Parshas Shemini there is a bird called a Chasida. It is called this because it does Chesed. However, G-d commanded that we cannot eat it because it is not kosher. Why? Because it shows chesed only to its own kind.

    If we want Moshiach to come we can’t just do chesed for our own kind and think we have achdus. There is achdus only when we show kindness to all Jews no matter who they are or where they come from. May he come now!

  6. Michoel-Look at it this way-Mutual appreciation which Chazal and Rishonim call hakaras hatov, not approval, is a major part of Torah Judaism.

  7. Bob, you are absolutely right.

    Nevertheless, one can still show love, chessed, and derech eretz to others whilst condemning their positions, if such is called for. The two are not mutually exclusive, though the execution of this task requires working to develop finely honed communication skills. Personally, I sometimes find this a daunting and challenging task!

    A different approach might be incumbent upon us in regard to those who are deliberately leading others to sin; da’at Torah can guide us in this.

  8. I’m for civility, too. However, there’s always some line past which tolerance becomes the problem and not the solution. These days, we have no shortage of movements posing as the real Judaism. Some are anything but.

  9. Michoel,

    Wise words, indeed. We bring nachat to Hashem by treating His children as our siblings, with love, chessed, and derech eretz. Thank you for this well-stated reminder.

    Bob, your point is valid, but does not negate the post’s theme. It is not necessary to endorse another’s way of life in order to interact with them appropriately. Buying into “multiculturalism” on all levels is not a prerequisite to Ahavat Yisrael.

  10. This post makes sense. I’m not too clear, though, about the implications of “Those that have a real responsibility and ability to comment intelligently will do so.” This says that certain qualifications are needed to speak out when there is a controversy.

    Is there some objective way to know if we are fit to comment or not? If someone generally recognized as fit does speak out, and others want to speak out in support, should they?

    If we see a group or its hashkafah as dangerous, do we owe our friends and family a heads-up or not?

    These are not academic questions.

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